Take a look at the two pictures above.
The one on the left is from the first running of the London Marathon in 1981. It features American Dick Beardsley, 24, and Norwegian Inge Simonsen, 25, signifying that they agreed to tie the race by holding hands across the finish line with a time of 2:11:48.
The one on the right is from the recent running of the 2016 Olympic women's marathon in Rio. It features the "Hahner twins," Germans Lisa and Anna Hahner, 26, crossing the finish line in 81st and 82nd place with a time of 2:45:32, also holding hands.
As far as I know, no one at the time criticized Beardsley and Simonsen. Rather, they were praised for their "sportsmanship."
The Hahner twins on the other hand were blasted for, in essence, not showing sportsmanship. German Athletic Federation Director Thomas Kurschilgen sternly lectured:
It looked as though they completed a fun run . . .
Every athlete in the Olympic competitions should be motivated to demonstrate his or her best performance and aim for the best possible result. Their (the Hahner's) main aim was to generate media attention. That is what we criticize.
This is of course extremely stupid and nasty, especially considering the source (in one sense, Kurschilgen was their own coach).
And, yes. It's sexist.
Beardsley and Simonsen's mutually-agreed tie was part of an accepted, though rarely practiced, tradition in track and field. It obviously affected the outcome of the race. If they had not agreed to tie, one of them would have crossed the finish line first, a few seconds faster than they both actually did.
But the Hahners finished midway back in the pack, in times way off their PRs. Any professional marathon runner will tell you that in those circumstances, whether you come in 81st or 82nd, or in 2:45:00 or 2:44:00 makes absolutely no difference in the world.
If it was all-good for Beardsley and Simonsen, it certainly should be all-good for Lisa and Anna Hahner.
There's nothing wrong with holding hands.
And there's nothing wrong with smiling at the end of a race, either, by the way.
Kurschilgen snidely implied that the whole thing might have been planned and that the Hahners hadn't given it their all (since they were so far off their PRs).
Tell that to the other competitors - most of whom did not PR. In the Olympics, you usually don't.
And the Hahners had actually run apart for much of the race:
“In all the marathons we ran together before, there was a point in the race we had to split up,” Anna said. “This was also the case in the Olympic marathon.”
Anna said she started faster, and then Lisa’s group caught up with her at around the 17-kilometer mark, at which point Anna said they ran about three kilometers together.
“But then I realized I couldn’t run this pace, and I had to let them go,” Anna said. “Lisa was always not far from me. After 40 kilometers, there was a turning point, and I knew, ‘Okay Anna, two kilometers to go to close the gap to Lisa.’ I invested all I had and 300 meters before the finish line, I was next to Lisa. It was a magical moment that we could finish this marathon together. We did not think about what we were doing.”
Interestingly, this year's women's marathon featured not one, but three sets of multiples -the Hahners, fraternal twins Kim Hye-Gyong and Kim Hye-Song, 23, of North Korea and identical triplets Lily, Liina and Leila Luik, 30, of Estonia. Only two of the Luiks completed the race, and Lily and Leila completed it apart (2:48:29, 2:54:38) but the Kims finished, you guessed it, precisely together in 10th and 11th place at 2:28:36.
They weren't holding hands. For all I know, holding hands is illegal in North Korea, even if you're not running a marathon.
But at least the head of their sports federation isn't a Nazi.